Dr. Henrich: Technology accelerator will prevent good ideas from going to waste

Dr. William Henrich
Dr. William Henrich

Medical breakthroughs are the result of arduous research and great effort, but if they are never translated into new therapies, drugs or treatments, they benefit no one.

In the field of biomedical research, ideas are especially precious, for who knows which one could hold the cure for a vexing disease? As a society, we cannot afford to lose possible solutions for cancer or diabetes or heart disease because of a complicated process to get them in the hands of physicians for the benefit of their patients. Precious time lost could mean precious lives lost.

To this end, UT Health San Antonio in April announced TechNovum, a technology commercialization accelerator. TechNovum starts with the germ of an idea, and accelerates, or compresses, the amount of time it takes to move the idea to the next stage, such as to a life science spinoff company in an incubator.

TechNovum will pair UT Health San Antonio faculty investigators with mentors from the business community and coach them through the market validation of their biomedical products, preparation of a business plan and pitching their technologies. The inaugural five to eight teams of inventors (known as Founders) will undergo a rigorous and structured entrepreneurial ideation program that includes weekly course sessions and guest speakers.

The accelerator program will run from June through October 2019, and wrap up with two days for the teams to demonstrate their products and present their business plans. One day will be reserved for accredited investors, the other will be open to the community.

This is a critical advancement for our community and the world beyond.

At the center of this commercialization accelerator is the promise of progress in science. Founders will build their business skills and gain knowledge of resources to translate ideas into products and companies. This will get new discoveries and technologies into the world faster, and could mean the difference between living with a disease and being cured.

For more than 50 years, UT Health San Antonio has provided an environment in which world-class scientists turn their discoveries into reality. One example is Jean Jiang, Ph.D., who occupies the Zachry Distinguished University Chair in Cancer Research. She knows what it takes to start with an idea and navigate the early steps of patenting and licensing a new biotechnology.

Her scientific curiosity, her entrepreneurial spirit and her unwavering devotion to translating her discoveries to help patients led to the exclusive licensing of two unique biologic therapeutics by AlaMab Therapeutics Inc. in June 2017.

These biologics will be developed into novel, first-in-class therapies for spinal cord injury and breast cancer bone metastasis.

Had TechNovum existed while Dr. Jiang was first beginning her journey, it would have propelled her project into a more advanced level of development at a much faster speed. This is because, in addition to providing education and mentoring to researchers who are new to drug and product development, it will also teach investors how to seek financial support for very early-stage preclinical studies.

San Antonio has an increasingly robust and collaborative bioscience ecosystem that provides unlimited partnership opportunities. Because of the efforts of the faculty and staff at UT Health San Antonio, including Andrea Giuffrida, Ph.D., vice president for research; John Gebhard, Ph.D., assistant vice president for the Office of Technology Commercialization; and accelerator co-directors John Fritz and Sean Thompson, TechNovum will be collaborative and complementary to all that exists in the ecosystem and highly valuable to all investigators with an entrepreneurial spirit.

We are confident that, with support from the community, TechNovum will eventually reach out to investors and entrepreneurs, even those who are not affiliated with UT Health San Antonio.

Most importantly, ideas—concepts that can save lives—will be planted, watered and reaped for the betterment of human health.

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